Can You Still Drown While Wearing A Life Jacket?

Can You Still Drown While Wearing A Life Jacket?

If you perform water-based activities, then you’re probably already acquainted with the danger that is present in them. While water gives us life, it also demands our respect, and the speed with which everything can go from being normal to having your head submerged beneath the waves is startling.

This is why you should always endeavor to use a life jacket when you are boating, performing water sports, or doing anything else on the waves. 70% of drowning victims during water activities during the past decade have not been wearing life vests, and that statistic speaks for itself.

No matter how good of a swimmer you are, there are some situations where a life jacket will save your life without question. For example, if there is a strong undertow that would otherwise suck you beneath the waves, a life jacket can give you that crucial extra bit of buoyancy to keep your head high.

Three people in water wearing life jackets.

Enough about life jackets in general, however, as we’ll be looking at situations where a life jacket may not be able to help you today. While a life jacket is designed to help a person drowning underwater, it is not a device that will universally prevent harm from coming to you in the water.

There Are Some Situations Where Life Jackets Can’t Protect You

That being said, you will still want to wear one of these vests whenever possible, but you will have to come to terms with the fact that you are taking your safety into your own hands on the water. Of course, everything has a certain element of danger, even walking on the sidewalk, so there is little reason to fear the waves.

While this guide mainly serves to inform our readers and give them a more accurate idea of what a water life vest can do for them, we don’t want to scare anyone. Being better-informed about the risks you are taking is always a good idea, as you will be better-prepared to handle them safely.

What Are The Worst Possible Scenarios

Out of everything that can happen on the water, three possible situations are the most dangerous when wearing a life vest. In this section, we'll give you the details about each of these possible situations, but we should warn you that drowning is not a pleasant thing to describe.

Mouth Immersion

This is the kind of drowning that you would imagine when both your head and nose are immersed in water, and you can't breathe. You may be wondering how this can happen if you are wearing a life jacket, and you have to remember that a lot of water can become a powerful force.

Life jackets do have their limits of buoyancy, and if you find yourself in exceptionally rough waters, the constant barrage of waves, currents, and the undertow can still pull you under. This typically only happens if you are wearing a floating jacket that isn’t sufficiently rated for the situation.

Mouth immersion drowning.

As you can imagine, in a mouth immersion drowning, your lungs fill up with water because you won’t be able to get clean air consistently. Mouth immersion is possible while both conscious and unconscious, and it is why your first instinct upon hitting the water should always be to right yourself.


One of the most dangerous things that can happen to you while wearing a life jacket is being knocked unconscious before being thrown into the water. If you're unconscious, you obviously can't keep yourself steady enough to ensure that your head is always above the water.

There are many ways that you can end up unconscious when something goes wrong. For example, if you’re kayaking and your kayak flips over and hits you in the head, it can daze you. You don’t even need to be knocked out to have your life put at risk, as a concussion can disorient you enough to cause problems.

Of course, unconsciousness is not an issue that is exclusive to water sports, as the same thing can happen if a larger boat runs aground and you are thrown into a railing or bulkhead. Even worse, you may end up trapped in a sinking ship while you are still unconscious, and your life jacket may pin you to the ceiling.


Going out on the water requires an alert mind to ensure that things don’t end up going wrong, and impairment can lead to a lot of problems in an emergency situation. First off, there are two kinds of impairment: voluntary, and involuntary. If you are voluntarily impaired, then you are drunk or high on the water.

On the other hand, involuntary impairment is when you are injured during the event that threw you into the water in the first place, though you may not be unconscious. Whether or not you get hurt during an accident is typically a matter of luck, however.

While drinking a few beers with your fishing buddies is an age-old tradition, getting irresponsibly drunk while on the water is a way to put your life at risk, so you’ll want to stay reasonably alert.

Dry Drowning And Secondary Drowning

Both dry drowning and secondary drowning are seen as similar because they can sometimes be deceptively delayed. In the case of dry drowning, the intrusion of water into your airway causes a massive contraction that prevents air from making it to your lungs.

A drowning kid.

Secondary drowning, on the other hand, is a little less obvious, as it can occur without any signs. A secondary drowning victim will have so much water in their lungs by the time that they are rescued that they can  drown later on due to the water that they inhaled.


As you can see, a life jacket won’t prevent all harm from coming to you, but it will still make you much more likely to survive an accident on the water. Thank you for taking the time to read this guide, be safe out there!


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